Monday, August 21, 2006

Keeping a Notebook: Elementaryhistoryteacher Style

This morning in my second period history class it felt like we were finally getting down to the business of class. We tackled Chapter One, Lesson Two by reading text and taking notes on the important parts. This lesson dealt with natural resources (renewable, nonrenewable, and flow) as well as other resources such as human and capital resources. The lesson gives students an opportunity to develop a flow chart involving the production of peanut butter by lifting ideas from the text as well as brainstorming a list of resources and classifying them into the various categories. The lesson ends with a discussion regarding scarcity and opportunity costs.

This is the time of the year when I teach the features of the textbook and attempt to persuade students to look for the definition of various vocabulary words in context. Why go to the back of the book when you don’t have to? The flipping back and forth can really confuse some students who struggle in their reading. We discover that the text gives us hints about the definition of a word such as the word “is” following a vocabulary word. Students are learning that “is” is a hint that a definition may follow. They get real excited trying to beat each other out in finding the definitions first. This year our brand new text provides the vocabulary words highlighted in yellow and a main idea is written at the beginning of each major section. We are including the main ideas in our notes.

Notes? Yes, Elementaryhistoryteacher requires her students to take notes. Once upon a time when I was an aspiring student teacher I sat at the knee of a master. She modeled for me a wonderful method for students to use in keeping a notebook. This method worked for her, and it has served me well for several years. Many of my former students who are now in highschooler who come back to visit tell me they have relied on my method for various classess if the teacher doesn’t have any notebook requirements.

It would appear that my current group of students are making a smooth induction into the Elementaryhistoryteacher’s ever growing notebook-notetaking procedure club. It is a fairly simple procedure especially for my fourth graders considering they have arrived at my door with their third grade mentalities still intact.

This method begins and ends with a two pocket, three prong folder. It can’t be any other type. We put out a supply list early in May and again in August but I still have a few who two weeks into the school year don’t have the proper folder. I usually purchase a hundred or so folders with my classroom money to have on hand. This year they went fast. As of today they are all gone. Rather than wait on certain students to finally purchase what I require I simply tell them to pick a color and for Heaven’s sake let’s get on with it!

Once everyone has folder we label it on the outside cover in this way------“Social Studies” and the student’s name. Students are then asked to take one sheet of notebook paper and lay it on their desk. I ask them to lay their left hand down on the desk by it. I tell them they will always be writing on the correct side of the paper if they check to make sure the holes are on the same side as their left arm. It’s amazing how many kids don’t even think about the side of the paper they are using. This simple reminder seems to help. I ask students to place at the top of their paper “Social Studies Notebook” in the center. The next line states, “Table of Contents” while the third line is for the name of the particular unit. In our case it is “America’s Land”.

Students then receive a lesson in how to open a three prong folder and how to place paper in it. The majority really have no clue. I visit each table group and model for students with one folder. I tell students their table of contents should always be the first thing they see when they open their folder.

I then pass out their study guides. These are very simple documents that I present more for parents than for students to use. At the top is information involving the name of the unit, the text pages that will be used, the standards the unit covers, information regarding absences from class, the unit test date, as well as unit vocabulary and lesson questions. My school system follows the Max Thompson/Learning Focused method of creating lesson plans so each unit has an enduring understanding/essential question and each lesson has a key question that students should be familiar with and should be able to answer in order to demonstrate mastery.

I ask students to lay their study guides on their desk face up and place a small number 1 in the upper right hand corner similar to a page number. I then ask students to return to their table of contents and next to the red line place a number one and list by it “Study Guide”. We then open up the prongs, place the Study Guide inside, and close the prongs up. Someone always quips, “Gee, it’s like a little book.” They are exactly right. Students are making a mini-book or portfolio, as if were, regarding the particular unit of study.

As we progress through the unit we add notes and activities as we go always adding a new page number and making an addition to the table of contents. Students who have been absent learn to compare their table of contents to the one I keep in the classroom to see what was done while they were gone.

This morning as we began a new lesson I had students open their books and have one new fresh sheet of paper on their desks along with their pencil. I wrote on my classroom table of contents “3. Notes: Our Nation’s Resources” and requested that students add to their own table of contents. At the top of their fresh sheet of paper students were asked to place a page number 3 in the upper-right hand corner and title the paper “Notes: Our Nation’s Resources”. We then were ready to begin reading and transferring important information to paper.

Once the notes are complete I remind students to choose two colored pencils and color code their notes by underlining the main ideas in one color and underlining the vocabulary words in another. In this way important information jumps of the page and parent helpers can locating information more easily.

Asssignments such as crossword puzzles or other activities are entered on the table of contents by title such as “Crossword-Landforms” or “Flowchart-How Peanut Butter is Made”.

The front pocket of the folder holds graded tests, etc. Students are asked to keep tests to use to study with for nine week comprehensive benchmark exams as well as to use in preparation for the state test at the end of the year. The back pocket holds twenty to thirty pieces of fresh paper.

Notebooks are graded at the end of each unit. Students trade folders and check off the table of contents compared to the items in the prongs. They made note of any problems with the folder by noting them on the table of contents. I have found that students who are having difficulty benefit from grading other notebooks. We generally end up with 10-12 items per unit in notebooks so items end up counting around 10 points each. It makes it very easy for students to assess a grade. Once graded, students remove the papers from the prongs, staple the mini-book together with the table of contents on top and store the papers in their back pocket. Students are asked to keep graded notebooks during each nine week period. They can take them home to store or to do whatever they want to with them as long as I don’t know. I explain to kids that I have a real problem with them throwing away all of their hard work so if they do wish to throw their notebooks away they should do it at home.

So what’s the big deal? Why does Elementaryhistoryteacher make her young charges go through a note-taking, note-keeping process such as this? Yes, certain students resist me, but they come along in the end. Yes, certain students are mentally/physically unable to handle these tasks. We adjust where needed according to IEPs. In a future post I will take a look at the research that backs up the use of note-taking and summarizing in the classroom.


graycie said...

As a high school teacher, I say, "Bless you, Elementaryhistoryteacher, bless you." Some of my cherubs have no clue about how to keep a notebook when they come to me.

Bellezza said...

What a great system! Like you, I want the students to become skilled note takers; they need to know how to do this the rest of their academic career! I enjoyed reading about your system because it puts more responsibility and organization in the hands of the students than in the hands of the teacher. I wonder if my third graders could do something along those lines in the beginning of the year, and work up to your way by Spring.

mcteacher said...

Excellent post. I am a big believer in students in grades 4-6 learning how to take notes. Like you said, it will help them throughout their lives.

Being a new teacher, I have not found a note-taking method that works well for these students. I have tried fill-in-the-blank study guides, guided worksheets, and even PowerPoint, but none seemed to go over all that well. Your method seems like a great way to get them started.

EHT said...

Thank-you ladies. I'll admit from time to time I get frustrated and wonder if it's all worth it if I have many real challenges due to lack of organization or maturity, however, I think it's worth it. In the beginning I really hold their hand by providing the notes on my tv which can act as a computer monitor. In the past I used transparencies and an overhead. Currently I'm trying to set up a wiki where students and parents can access my notes from home. Eventually students begin to pick out the important stuff from the text without me and that's my whole goal in the end. Then I add stuff I think might be important.

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Anonymous said...

Thank you for the detailed instructions. I teach 6th and they have no clue about note-taking when I get them. I really want to get them ready for Junior High where note-taking begins to become much more important.

I am implementing your method on Monday.

Christina said...

I'm going to be student teaching this fall, and I've been looking for a good method of note taking and organization to teach my students. This one works nicely. Thanks so much for posting this.